Wing Chun Academy of Thailand
TRACING WING CHUN'S
As Wing Chun practitioners, we all wonder where and how this amazing art
originated. When Bruce Lee exploded into the martial arts scene and the
silver screen, and the spectators learned that his pugilistic roots came
from Wing Chun, the Hong Kong media sought out his master, my great
grandmaster, Yip Man, and interviewed him, asking him the same question.
GM Yip Man told the interviewers that Shaolin-Abbess Ng Mui formulated
the art while in hiding, from the Manchurian force, in the Daliang
Mountains of southwest China. The rest is history, as they say, and I
needn't repeat the story.
However, of late, the story has been disputed.
Doubts emerged when some of GM Yip Man's students claimed that their
master had never related the story to them, and that they had never
heard it until GM Yip Man was interviewed.
Books and articles have since been written refuting Abbess Ng Mui's
involvement in the art, the existence of Lady Wing Chun, and any womanÕs
involvement in it. The authors put Wing Chun's birth (the art) at the
time of the Boxers' Rebellion, on the Red Junk, fathered by the actors
of the opera, who were also revolutionary fighters.
I have been related to Wing Chun since 1970. I have no doubt that the
art sprung from the womb of a woman. I have no doubt that it came from
Abbess Ng Mui and Lady Wing Chun. Plus, I have no doubt about the
veracity of GM Yip Man's story.
Of course, I don't have documented proof nor eye-witnesses to verify my
belief; but neither do the authors who dispute GM Yip Man's story.
I have no doubts because, from my experience and understanding of Wing
Chun, the art is more conformed to a woman's structure and mind than
that of a man. For this very reason, men struggle to master the art or
standout amongst other martial artists since GM Yip Man, who was a
For example, Wing Chun's horse (stance), Tan Sau, posture, and the
concept of yielding, are all very strange and contradictory to male
structure and thinking. Women have no obstacles between their legs to
comfortably squeeze their knees inward, or execute a Tan Sau with their
naturally inward-bent arms, have different and stronger lordosis (lower
vertebrae) than male to allow better posture and pelvis control, and
yield easily without loss of ego ... and come out winning.
(Click Harvard Science on
Female Lower Back (PDF) to read about the difference between female
and male lordosis.)
Below is a picture of my daughter's fully stretched arms; note how the
radius (thumb) side of the arms are straight while the ulna (pinky
finger) side of the arms are naturally bent inward at the elbows. Also
note how the palms turn naturally outward, making the Tan more
The other reason I stick to GM Yip Man story is simply out of respect
for him and the founders of Wing Chun. To doubt GM Yip Man and refute
his story of Abbess Ng Mui and Lady Wing Chun is a slap to their faces.
It's a perfect example of biting the hand that feeds you. ItÕs like
being given a box of treasure ... taking it, and then denying credit to
The other theorists could argue that giving credit to Abbess Ng Mui and
Lady Wing Chun for the art would mean denying credit to the Red Junk
actors, who developed it. I beg to differ. The story of Wing Chun, as
told by GM Yip Man, INCLUDES the Red Junk actors as developers of Wing
Chun; whereas, the new theorists EXCLUDE Abbess Ng Mui and Lady Wing
Since there is no clear documentation of whether Ng Mui and Wing Chun
first developed the art or the Red Junk actors, wouldnÕt it be better to
credit them all?
Ancient histories were mostly passed down verbally; some of them may not
have been wholly true, but the core of the stories wouldn't have been
far from the truth.
GM Yip Man was not known to have been talkative or boisterous. We have
to realize that the relationship between masters and students in the old
days was quite different from what it is today. We may have a buddy-type
relationship with with our masters today, and chit-chat over beer;
whereas masters of the past demanded high respect and distance from
their students. Masters talked to students only on a "need to know"
basis. Students dared not ask questions, and only spoke when spoken to.
So, it is not surprising that GM Yip Man did not relate the story of
Wing Chun to any or some of his students. Also, as a rule, students and
people of that era were not interested in the origin of the art (for
that matter, the origin of anything) as we are today. Perhaps, the first
time GM Yip Man was asked about the origin of Wing Chun was the time he
While some Wing Chun practitioners dispute the story of Abbess Ng Mui
and Lady Wing Chun, some of us are digging deeper into it. We're
asking, where in Daliang Mountain did Abbess Ng Mui develop the art and
meet Lady Wing Chun?
Daliang Mountain is situated on the borders of Sichuan and Yunnan
provinces in southwest China. The question then is ... was it in
Sichuan or Yunnan?
GM Yip Man did not say whether it was in Sichuan or Yunnan that Abbess
Ng Mui went into hiding. He may have known it or may not have. His
teachers may have told him or may not have. Or perhaps it was just
easier to say Daliang Mountain because most Chinese knew where it was,
whereas, naming a little unknown town would have posed more questions
and be more bothersome to answer.
The truth may never be found; but we could try using the process of
elimination and probability to bring us closer to the truth.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to rewrite the history of Wing Chun
as some people are doing. Neither am I saying that I have factual
So, without further ado ... here's what I have concluded from my
Abbess Ng Mui and Lady Wing Chun were in the Yunnan portion of Daliang
Why Yunnan, and not Sichuan?
Yunnan would have been a better hideout for Abbess Ng Mui (escaping from
Manchurian police and soldiers) and for Lady Wing Chun's father
(escaping from Foshan [Futsan] police) for the following reasons:
Yunnan translates to "South of the Clouds." It was always, and is still,
considered a faraway (thus named South of the Clouds) remote and
inaccessible province of China by the Central Government. Until
recently, the only means of travel on the narrow mountainous paths and
torrent rivers were on mules, yaks, sheep-skin floats and hand-glides.
It is inhabited by 25 major ethnic minorities, and 26 minor indigenous
groups (China has 55 in total). (Read more at Yunnan Minorities.pdf.)
It was always ruled by fierce ethnic warlords whom the Central
Government was unable to ever conquer or enslave. Even in recent Chinese
history, it stands out as the last province to convert to Communism.
Because of its isolation from the rest of China, it was often used as a
place of banishment for political exiles and fugitives.
The Yunnan map below shows the population of ethnic minorities and the
Yunnan is located in the southern end of western China. It shares
borders with Tibet (when it was an independent country) Myanmar (Burma),
Laos and Vietnam. Any fugitive, tracked down to Yunnan, could easily
sneak cross one of these countries unnoticeably; whereas, the police or
the army couldn't do so without proper authorization. (It was the
passageway where Chiang Kaishek's Kuomingtan [Guomingdan] last soldiers
used to escape from the Communist army.)
Although International and Chinese maps show only one name for Daliang
Mountain, the regional folks call the Sichuan section of the mountain
Daliangshan (Large Cool Mountain), and the Yunnan section, Xiaoliangshan
(Small Cool Mountain).
The above map shows DALIANG SHAN, marked in Sichuan.
Daliangshan occupies the south-eastern part of Sichuan, and extends to
the north-western part of Yunnan, which the locals call
The above map shows DALIANG SHAN in yellow highlight, and red lines for
Yunnan's border. Funny how the mountain is shaped like a Tan Sau,
pointing into Yunnan.
Here's a closer look at the Daliang Mountain.
In comparison, Sichuan is much easier to access from central and rest of
China. It is predominantly inhabited by Han Chinese, and was
historically well connected with the Central Government. It wouldn't
have been a good place for Abbess Ng Mui, Wing Chun and her father to
hide out. Also, the Daliang Mountain in Sichuan was inhabited by an
indigenous tribe called Lolo (known as Yi today), who often fought the
Hans and the Manchurians. Abbess Ng Mui would not have been welcomed in
Now, here is a very interesting fact about Xiaoliangshan that makes me
and some of my peers suspect that Abbess Ng Mui developed the art there,
and that the story of Wing Chun occurred in this area.
In Xiaoliangshan, there is a village located by a lake called Lugu. It
is inhabited by an indigenous tribe call the Moso. What is unique about
the tribe is that it is a matriarchal society. In other words, women
are the heads of the families and tribe. They don't have marriages, per
se, but have what they call walking marriages. Men do not live with the
women, and only come at night and leave before dawn; they have no rights
to property or the children they father. (Read more about it at http://www.
Nowhere in the history of martial arts did any woman make a name for
herself as Abbess Ng Mui and Wing Chun did. The art was always dominated
by men. Shaolin Temple was ruled by male abbots. Abbess Ng Mui would
have ranked lower than the abbots. Her prowess in martial arts would
have been overlooked and unappreciated. So, it is highly feasible that
Abbess Ng Mui was inspired by the women of Xiaoliangshan to develop a
martial art specifically for women's structure and attitude. It is very
likely that Lady Wing Chun was inspired by the women of this region to
learn martial arts and challenge her harasser. It is also highly
possible that a matriarchal society, like the Moso, had a martial art of
its own that was different from men's, which they used to defend their
families, community, and properties. It is highly probable that Abbess
Ng Mui had learned, adopted, or borrowed their martial art to develop
The Lugu Lake Village still exists today, and the Moso people still
practice the matriarchal system and the walking marriage. However, since
the ancient days, the Moso people have extended themselves to Suhe
(pronounced Su-huh), and Lijiang, about 200 Km south of Lugu. Through
migration and emergence, the Moso people have become Naxi people in
Lijiang. They practice an indirect form of matriarchy. Although men are
entitled to properties and children, women conduct business, labor, and
manage funds. Men usually leisure in art and music.
Having traveled to this region yearly for the past 16 years, I've seen
how strong the women are physically and mentally. I'm convinced that the
atmosphere and attitude in the region would have inspired any woman to
go beyond the norm. Cantonese women, particularly in the past, were
frail and submissive. Lady Wing Chun would have been so before coming to
southwest China. However, being around matriarchs would certainly have
given her the strength to stand up against men. If you recall the story
... when Lady Wing Chun returned to Canton, and married Leung Bok, she
did not tell him of her martial arts ability. She acted like a
submissive wife until she was called to reveal her skills. This story
indicates that she played different roles in different regions. In
northern Yunnan, it would not have been uncommon for a woman to
challenge a man; whereas, in Canton, it would have been unheard of.
Below are a couple of movie clips of Lijiang women at work. One of them
(pictured below) is shorter than my daughter who had just turned 10 in
the picture. The women are carrying over 100 kg of stones and sand on
their backs and neck. They were doing this all day.
Double-click on the movie clips below to start or stop playing.